A fraudster’s victim who fought back has won a landmark battle to name and shame the man who scammed him and dozens of others.
Nearly two and a half years ago, Steve Taylor contracted Grant Norman King to build a sleepout for his elderly father behind the family home in West Auckland.
Taylor paid three-quarters of the price – $23,500 – as a deposit. The sleepout was never built and the money was not returned.
In a bid to get even, Taylor brought civil proceedings against King but when the cost of continuing the case became prohibitive, he took a different tack, setting up the website grantnormanking.com with the intention of warning others who might be drawn in.
Within months other victims were clamouring to tell their stories and it was not long before Taylor built a comprehensive timeline of King’s offending.
King then tried to turn the legal tables on Taylor by using the Harassment Act to sue Taylor and demand the website be taken down.
Taylor was forced into Auckland District Court to defend himself.
However, that was King’s mistake. “What he did was open up the opportunity for every other victim to tell their story, which was the very thing he was advocating against,” Taylor said.
Affidavits in support of Taylor’s cause flooded in and he said it was surreal to be standing in court with the public gallery full of people backing him.
In court Judge David Wilson sided with Taylor and said the website, with all its explosive accusations, could remain online. “It would be inappropriate if a man in Mr King’s position could close down postings of essentially factual material on the basis that it interferes with his commercial plans and deprives him of customers,” the judge said.
“I accept Mr King is distressed by the postings but in my view that distress arises because he would prefer potential customers were unaware of his history and is not such as justifies the making of restraining orders.”
Lawyer Madeleine Flannagan, who advised Taylor and has been the victim of online harassment herselft, said the judge’s decision showed free speech was alive and well.
She said the unique nature of the case, setting a new precedent in harassment laws, meant it was already being used by media law professors at Auckland University.
Taylor’s website also resulted in King being punished. Since setting up the website, Taylor said more than 70 victims had come forward, across a 32-year span, claiming losses of more than $3 million.
Madeleine has commented:
The law appears to now stand that if someone repeatedly publishes attacks on another person online this action can constitute harassment under the act if the information is harmful, baseless and untrue. However, if the blogger has a lawful purpose for releasing the information and it is either true, or they have reasonable belief that it is true, then even if that information is highly offensive and causes distress, such conduct is lawful and does not fall foul of harassment law.
The judgement is below. I welcome it.